Scouts Honor: Boy Scouting, Newspapers and Howdy Doody
Clayton is, compared to Syracuse and Elmira, a very small town. We only had two Scout troops: the troop at the Catholic School and the troop at the Methodist Church. Since we belonged to the Methodist church, my brothers were protestant scouts. I’m not sure that’s how everyone saw it, but it seemed that way at the time. I don’t recall having much to do with scouts until my brothers took up the cause of raising money for the troop by collecting cans, bottles and newspapers. These we took to the scoutmaster’s garage in an REO Speedwagon (the real thing, not the band), sometimes with me sitting on top of the load to hold it down. This lasted for what seemed to me a long time, and then we didn’t do it anymore, probably due to the end of the post WWII shortage of nearly everything. It revived somewhat during the Korean “Police Action” (another term for war) and we took it up again. By then I was a Cub Scout, and my brother Dick was the Scout.
When Jack and Jim were Scouts, they often had “patrol meetings” at our house, during which my presence was tolerated if I kept my mouth shut and stayed out of the way. All of this was very mysterious to me, and I loved participating in the paper drives, except of course when it got boring or too cold and I wanted to go home. My brother Dick, who was four years older than I, became a Scout when he was 11. I got to be a Cub Scout, but don’t remember much about Cub Scouting, except that Dick was our “Den Chief” and we did some kind of crafty thing a lot. My brother Jim tells of a winter overnight at Camp Portaferry in the Adirondacks when Dick went along as a companion. Jim made breakfast over the fire, and Dick wouldn’t eat it, which was unusual for Dick, as he did not have the eating disorder that controlled much of my early years. Dick went on to become an Eagle Scout, so he must have enjoyed the experience, breakfast notwithstanding.
Some of my earliest memories of television come from my brother Dick’s Boy Scouting years. After we put the newspapers in the Scoutmaster’s garage, we were invited inside for Kool Aid or hot cocoa, and allowed to watch the Howdy Doody Show. Buffalo Bob, Clarabelle the Clown, and Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring all talked to these puppets named Howdy and Mr. Bluster. I thought I was in heaven. I wanted to be there in the “Peanut Gallery” to see the show live, but it was not to be. The closest I ever got was that little rounded gray screen in the living room of a house on State Street, Clayton, New York.
We also went racing turtle hunting in the spring, over in the swamp near French Creek, just about where Carol and I now live in the summer. It is strange and wonderful to sit on our deck at the present day French Creek Marina and look out over the area where my brothers and I once caught turtles to race. We painted numbers on their backs and took them to the race downtown, where there was a prize for the first turtle across the line. I have no idea what the prize was, because when I say we, I mean they. I was just along for the ride. We used to see lots of snakes too, and that was probably where I learned not to be afraid of them. My brothers, to their credit, never tried to scare me with snakes.
I had friends, later on, who taught me the cruel skill of the “snake whip.” If you grasped a snake just right, by the tail, and cracked it like a whip, its head would snap, breaking its neck and killing it. Once was enough for me. I was squeamish about such things, and did not like killing animals. We had some playmates who thought it was neat to put firecrackers inside a turtle’s shell and set them off. Of course, the turtle did not think it was so much fun...
Capture the flag was a great game for children. It is best played at dusk, when you can sneak up on someone’s home base and steal their flag, running and hiding in the dark, passing the flag to someone else to take to your home base before you are caught with the flag in your hand. Complex military strategies were mapped out by the opposing patrol teams, and a good time was had by all. Unless, of course, you happened to have a bully on the opposite side that enjoyed pushing you face down in the smelly swamp mud. We played the game over by French Creek, near the swamp, and out behind CCS, near the swamp, in the area now occupied by a gravel walking/running track. There were lots of places to hide, and the game was best when the sides were evenly matched. It was here, in the dusky period before total darkness, that I learned my most memorable lessons about being the principal’s son. I also soon learned to hide well!
When I actually became a Boy Scout at age 11, I had some handicaps. As an adult Scoutmaster I found that those handicaps were not all that uncommon. For instance, I found that many boys were shy. Many had home and or family problems that preyed on them. Many had to live up to big brothers’ reputations in Scouting. I even knew several, one in particular, with asthma and seriously skinny arms and legs! Of course, at that age, everyone thinks that their handicaps are worse than anyone else’s, and often are not even aware that other boys may have the same, similar or worse. Self-consciousness is not the same thing as self awareness.
When I graduated from high school at CCS, I was the original 98 pound weakling. At 5’7” I weighed around 105, soaking wet. You can thus imagine what my physique was like at 11. At Camp